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Life and Work with Shirla de Magalhães

Today we’d like to introduce you to Shirla de Magalhães.

Shirla, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
Becoming a Child & Family Therapist was a career change for me in my mid 30’s, one of the many life decisions I have had to make. I immigrated from Brazil in the late ’90s with two young children, I raised them as a single parent and working mother for most of their childhood.

After obtaining my Masters in Counseling Psychology, I worked with foster children and at-risk youth and their families at non-profit agencies in San Diego. During my initial months as a trainee, I quickly realized that so many clinicians were struggling in their work with children because they were relying mostly on the power of talk therapy, which typically doesn’t work well with children under 12, their brains are just not developed for that kind of cognitive therapy yet. That is when I did my research and came across Play Therapy. As I learned more about neuroscience, brain & trauma, I realized that play and expressive art therapies are very important therapeutic tools not only for children but for teens and adults to process their childhood traumas and to bring unconscious material to the surface in a non-intrusive way.

My passion for working with children led me to complete a two-year post-graduate certification in Play Therapy at UCSD Extension where I learned the necessary tools to speak the language of children in order to help them heal. I also completed a 2-year training process to become a Sandplay Practitioner, a non-verbal form of therapy where you place miniatures in the sand, facilitating unconscious material to emerge in a safe way for processing.

Having experience working with children and understanding what causes them hurt and pain has also led me to be more sensitive when working with parents and adults looking to heal their inner child since many of our adult negative behaviors and choices stem from unresolved and often unconscious childhood issues.

Today I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), Registered Play Therapist Supervisor (RPT-S), Sandplay Practitioner (SP), Immediate Past President of the California Association for Play Therapy (CALAPT) and I volunteer as a Disaster Mental Health worker for the Red Cross.I enjoy being able to educate others on the therapeutic powers of play therapy.

I am extremely passionate about my work, I enjoy attending different conferences and workshops throughout the year, and believe that my personal & professional life experiences paired with my continued education have allowed me to become a very empathetic, supportive and genuine therapist. Being part of an individual or family transformation is very fulfilling, it is delightful to observe the process where parents and children learn new ways to communicate, understand and connect with each other at a deeper level.

On a personal note, I love traveling, reading, photography, hiking, tent camping, beach, gardening, dancing, creating personal collages and I am a proud parent of two adult children now 24 and 22.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
I don’t think there is ever a smooth road when you are trying to improve yourself personally and or professionally, some people cheer you on, others become uncomfortable with your determination and success. When I was in graduate school, one of my professors told the class that there was a huge incidence of divorce for those in grad school, not only because of the time commitment but because you are committed to grow personally, to make changes and sacrifices. I added to those statistics, having divorced (for the second time) not during grad school but a few years later during the process of building my business and becoming a successful independent businesswoman.If the person you chose as a partner isn’t ready to grow with you and embrace the changes, it’s very easy for the relationship to grow apart. I was told my success was intimidating – that makes me smile…

For those wanting to start their own business or make a career change, don’t let anyone convince you that you can’t do it, because you can! Believe in yourself, believe in your goals, do your research, take all the appropriate steps, talk to others in the field you want to go in to and surround yourself with positive people and activities! Self Care is VERY important in any phase of life, but even more so during times of change and personal growth, take time to recharge when you need it.

Please tell us about Sol Play Child Therapy.
Sol Play Child Therapy is my pride, my own private practice, I love being my own boss! My office setting is very cozy and “homey”, I call it the “Tree House” – I didn’t want a sterile office environment with long hallways that would make a child feel like they were going to the doctor’s office, I wanted kids and their families to feel comfortable and welcome as soon as they arrived. Kids tend to ask if they can live there with me, they are surprised when I tell them I don’t live there!  I wonder if it’s the hot chocolate, cookies, or the comfy couch in the waiting room… I work predominantly with children and teens and I am mostly referred to as a Play Therapist, kids however have identified me as the “Feelings Doctor” or “Feelings Teacher”. My clientele consists mostly of kids and teens dealing with anxiety, depression, divorce, trauma, I also enjoy working with adults seeking personal growth.

Often it feels as if the media, by and large, is only focused on the obstacles faced by women, but we feel it’s important to also look for the opportunities. In your view, are there opportunities that you see that women are particularly well-positioned for?
I personally feel that a woman can do anything she sets her mind to, regardless of what that is. I think self-confidence plays a huge role, and it’s something each of us has to work on, we need to seek it internally not externally.

Contact Info:

  • Address: 5811 Amaya Drive, Suite 204
    La Mesa, CA 91942
  • Website:
  • Phone: 619-797-6595
  • Email:

Image Credit:
My headshot was taken by Lisa Shadburn, All office photos taken by myself Shirla de Magalhães

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